Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Television’

Groups seek to save historic trees from demolition | Maryland News – WBAL Home

When Dumbarton Middle School was built in the 1950’s, careful care was taken to build around these trees. These trees were a part of the original Dumbarton Estate, and may be as old as 240 years. They are quite frankly irreplaceable. These magnificent old trees have an inherent value that cannot be expressed in utilitarian terms, except to say that removing them in the name of supposed traffic efficiency is the kind of horrid, small-minded bureaucratic action that makes our lives, communities and our world a worse place.

There’s no question that Dumbarton Middle School badly needs renovation, but the school board’s aggressive plan to expand the school’s footprint, pave over beautiful and well-used greenspace and destroy historic trees is just absolutely unnecessary overreach. Not only will it be an eyesore and a serious injury to the character of our neighborhood, but it will come at a large and unnecessary cost to taxpayers, without actually improving our schools.

picture copyright 2014 by my beautiful and sexy wife; used without permission

picture copyright 2014 by my beautiful and sexy wife; used without permission

This tree is in danger.

Read Full Post »

I woke up this morning with this phrase stuck on my tongue. No, actually that’s kind of a lie; I read the word “redolent” in an Oxford American piece this morning and the phrase popped into my head. But either way I spent all day mulling it over and trying to figure out where it came from.

Eventually I cheated and Googled it, but I wish I hadn’t, since I am in the middle of reading through I’ll Take My Stand anyway and I would have eventually come to Mr. Young’s essay, pieces of which I have read before, obviously.

Sometimes I think having the universe at our fingertips courtesy of “Mister Google,” as my mentor here at The Firm calls him, cheapens life. I do know that I have tried to stop immediately going to IMDB every time I see a familiar face I can’t quite place on a TV show. The satisfaction of remembering that person from that bit part in that one Friends episode–you know, “The One Where __________”–is a small pleasure but a sweet one. Being able to find the answer in seconds doesn’t really improve my life in a meaningful way either. That said, I do appreciate being able to look up the safe cooking temperature for pork every single time I cook it because I have always forgotten, but then again, my best friend works for the USDA in DC, so I suppose I could always just call him and ask. Again. He’d roll his eyes (and I would be able to hear it over the phone), but he’d forgive me. I could also just remember. But who needs memory when you have it all stored in the Big Internet External Brain Drive?

Does it have anything to do with time’s sweetness? I’ll think about it when I sit down to hear Mr. Young out.

To be honest (for the second time in one post), I didn’t necessarily intend to take this in an anti-Information Age direction, but that’s just where it went. Not inappropriately, given the bent of the Agrarians’ manifesto that started the whole thing. Unless Oxford American did, in which case the appropriateness, or lack thereof, is not as clear.

Read Full Post »

I served a full-time, two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from 1998-2000. For two years, I spent every waking moment (when I wasn’t in the bathroom) with a missionary companion. I got up in the morning every day for personal and companion study. I spent all day proselytizing, with short breaks for meals. I didn’t watch TV. I didn’t use the internet. I was only supposed to read Church-approved books and publications. I talked to my family back home on the phone only on Christmas and Mother’s Day. I had (part of) one day a week off from study and proselytizing to spend cleaning my apartment, doing my laundry, going grocery shopping, writing letters to my friends and family, and then, if I had any time left over, for recreation or relaxation. I wore a suit and tie (or at least a shirt and tie) and a name-tag every day. For two years, I was not Kullervo; I was Elder Kullervo.

And even though I am no longer a Mormon, I don’t regret it at all.

I was reasonably faithful, I worked reasonably hard, and I did my best to follow the rules most of the time. I matured a lot, I learned a lot, I made a lot of great friends, I learned a foreign languauge, I had a lot of life-changing experiences, and I’m a better person for having gone.

There were a lot of downsides to it, of course–I struggled with feelings of depression and unworthiness the same as many (most? all?) missionaries, but it wasn’t like a constant, horrible black cloud. I manifested the first signs of some problematic anxiety issues that would plague me for years to come, but honestly they run in the family, and so I figure I was prone to them anyway. There were good days and bad days, same as any other time; maybe a little more intense on both sides of the spectrum but it’s an intense couple of years, so it’s sort of to be expected.

One of the reasons I don’t regret my mission (or anything else I did as a Mormon), is that now, in retrospect, I don’t question my motives for leaving the Church. I don’t second-guess myself and wonder if I “decided” the Church wasn’t true in order to give myself a break for being unfaithful. I did everything right. I wasn’t a superhuman (supermormon?) but I did all of the things a Mormon is supposed to do, up to and including an honorable mission and a temple marriage, with reasonable effort and a basically good attitude. So I am confident that I am not now making excuses to cover my guilt, and nobody can tell me that I am. I can look at myself in the mirror and say that I’m an ex-Mormon now because I don’t believe that the Church is true, and I don’t think it’s a good church if it isn’t true, not because I am too cowardly to live up to the expectations of Mormonism.

Are there other, better things I could have done with those two years? Other ways I could have spent my time? Sure. And maybe some of them would have been fantastic. And maybe I wouldn’t have had to make some of the sacrifices I did. But you know what? I was born into the Church. I was raised Mormon. I was always going to go on a mission and get married in the temple, and it’s pointless to imagine fantasy scenarios where I didn’t.

I did what I did because I thought it was the right thing to do, even though, in retrospect, I was wrong. I’ve grown and changed since then, but I am proud of myself for acting with integrity. I strongly suspect that we’ve all done a lot of things like that, both related and unrelated to religion. It’s part of growing up: you do the best you can with the tools you’ve got, and maybe with more experience or maturity you would have done something different but hey, you didn’t have more experience or maturity back then. So no sense regretting it now.

I regret the times in my life when I have acted out of selfishness or cowardice, not the times when I did what I believed in. When I served my mission, I was doing what I believed in, and so I have no regrets.

Read Full Post »

So, you probably already heard about Kanye West’s stunt at the Video Music Awards. While Taylor Swift was accepting her award, West came on stage, snatched the microphone from her, and railed about how Beyonce should have won. This is not really new or unexpected behavior from Kanye West, but the fact that it is typical does’t make it not incredibly shitty.

Kanye West is unimaginably self-centered–no, self-obsessed. He has no manners. Given his relatively privileged middle-class suburban Chicago background, it makes me sort of wonder where he learned to act like that. Or, honestly, what he is so godsdamned angry about. Not winning Grammys is not a reason to pitch a fit. Guess what, Kanye: you’re not somehow entitled to an award. Honestly, Kanye West is not even that good.

I remember after Katrina when he came out with his “George Bush does not care about black people” thing, and I thought he was so awesomely bold. Now in retrospect I just think he is an attention-starved dickhole.

Targeting Taylor Swift bugs the crap out of me, too. She’s sweet, she’s pretty, she’s innocent, and she’s talented, and she gets nothing but snark for it. I remember reading the article in the Rolling Stone issue with Swift on the cover, and they were basically just sarcastic. It’s like people have somehow decided that there’s some moral superiority to being jaded and cynical, and people who are not similarly jaded are somehow deserving of mockery and derision. It pisses me off.

Read Full Post »

My beautiful and sexy wife and I followed American Idol pretty closely this season, and I have to say that Adam Lambert seemed like the clear and obvious winner for pretty much the entire season. His performances consistently blew everyone else away. I was a fan of Megan Joy, and I was sad when she got kicked off the show, but at no point did I entertain the idea that someone other than Adam deserved to win. Kris Allen is a good singer, and he is incredibly cute, but he has nowhere near the musical talent or star power that Adam has.

When Adam sang “Whole Lotta Love” a couple of weeks ago I was permanently converted. I fucking love Led Zeppelin, and the fact that Adam 1) sang one of my favorite Led Zep songs and 2) sang it well just absolutely made my day. Anyway, every one of Adam’s songs has just crackled. Kris has a nice voice, and like I said, he is really cute, but he is nowhere near the superstar that Adam is. So I thought it was pretty much bullshit that Adam didn’t win.

This confirms my suspicion that democracy is fundamentally flawed. But I guess it’s not the end of the world, because Adam is pretty much guaranteed a successful career, and I will pretty much certainly buy any CD he releases. So the fact that he did not win is sad, but he’s still going to be a fucking awesome rockstar, and will probably have a longer and more successful career than Kris, Kris’s victory notwithstanding.

Also, it was a treat to see Adam with Kiss, and having both Adam and Kris sing with Queen was just a delicious demonstration of how much more of a rockstar Adam is.

Read Full Post »

I just read a fantastic post by Egregores in which the author interprets “All Along The Watchtower”–which is in my opinion the single greatest rock song ever written, although I will stand by my assertion that the Jimi Hendrix version is by far the most superior–to be about Hermes and Dionysus. It’s really good stuff, and I would reprint it here except that I want you to go see it for yourself.

“All Along the Watchtower” was featured in one of the most intense episodes of the new Battlestar Galactica–which I will maintain is in fact the single greatest television program ever produced. My first personal experience of Dionysus happened while I was listening to the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack (although a different song from the soundtrack: Passacaglia, from Season One).

This is all somehow incredibly mind-blowing and significant to me. In any case, I will never listen to “Watchtower” the same way again, and I will be moving it to my iTunes playlist of songs about Dionysus. That reminds me that I have promised to post my Playlist of Divinity sometime. I should do that soon.

Read Full Post »

It should be clear by now that I passionately believe that real spiritual/mystical experiences happen. People experience the presence of divinity. I don’t know for sure whether they are merely experiencing a neurological or psychological phenomenon, or whether they are actually contacting a real deity, or whether the distinction is meaningful. What I am sure of is that mystics throughout history have reported eerily similar phenomena and labeled them as divine contact.

Mormonism has taught since the days of Joseph Smith that such mystical experiences–jargonically termed “personal revelation”–are available to Mormons, basically on demand. Modern-day Mormon prophets have consistently promised that every earnest seeker who asks God for a personal confirmation of the truth of Mormonism and/or its components will receive it. The problem with these promises is that inasmuch as mystical experiences exist, that’s just not the way it works. No matter what your theology promises, God is not on tap. God is not predictable, as much as we would like it to be.

To reconcile the irreconcilable–theological promises about the availability of mystical experience and the unpredictable reality of mystical experience–Mormonism has lowered the bar on personal revelation. Mormons believe a priori that mystical experience is there for the asking, so when experience prove otherwise, experience must be wrong. Mormons tell each other things like “I think you have had personal revelation; you just don’t recognize it,” and they tell themselves stories about how subtle the Holy Ghost’s influence is.

But they’re wrong. They’re ridiculous, even. The real experience of the presence of God is not subtle. It is not difficult to discern. It is like a hurricane: massive, beyond control. Like a roller coaster, but you can’t really be certain that it is going to stay on the tracks. Real contact with God is total loss of sense of self, a total absorbtion into something so huge and so other that it can’t be described.

But like I said, that kind of thing is rare and unpredictable, and so it doesn’t really do a good job of fulfilling Mormonism’s promises about the availability of personal revelation. So, to make up for God’s failure to deliver on Mormonism’s promises (which can’t possibly be true because then Mormonism would be false, and Mormons assume that cannot be the case), Mormons recast completely mundane experiences as “personal revelation,” and thus save themselves from having to face the unfortunate disconnect between Mormon theology and the real experience of God.

What follows is a list of things that do not count as spiritual or mystical experiences, but that are often characterized as such in Mormon testimonies. They are in no particular order.

1. Negative Confirmations: These happen when I either want to do something or thought I should do something, and so I prayed for guidance, and God did not definitely tell me “no,” and afterward I felt an increased desire and/or obligation (as the case may be) to do the thing. But that’s not personal revelation; it’s what I wanted to do anyway. Silence from God can’t possibly be evidence of God’s influence in my life. The increased motivation post-prayer is just excitement or resignation in the absence of a contrary instruction from God, along the lines of “God didn’t say ‘no,’ so it is definitely the right thing to do, and it’s coincidentally what I wanted to do anyway! Hooray!

2. A Burning In The Bosom: Mormon scriptures describe prayers being answered by personal revelation in the form of a “burning in the bosom”: a warm sensation in the chest. This happens to Mormons, and it shouldn’t be a surprise at all, because it is basic Classical Conditioning at work. Let’s say that for my whole life I am told that I will feel a warm sensation when certain triggers happen (when I pray, when I read the scriptures, when I go to church, when I am with my family, whatever) and that this warm feeling is the Holy Ghost. When this warm feeling inevitably results, it is not the Holy Ghost at all. I have conditioned myself. I have spent my life looking for a particular sensation whenever the appropriate trigger is present, and eventually my body obliges my mind by producing said sensation. This makes me happy because it confirms my religion to me, and it is the thing I have been wanting to happen. Thus, my body learns that producing a warm feeling in response to certain triggers makes me happy. This is not called God. This is called Pavlov’s dog.

3. Intense Emotional Responses: When I watch a Church movie, I may indeed get choked up and emotional when something poignant and magical happens. But this isn’t personal revelation of the gospel truth being presented in the movie; this is my emotions being manipulated. TV shows and movies do this all the time. Filmmakers, directors, artists, composers, musicians, and writers can and do purposely arrange this stuff to tug at your heartstrings and make you feel certain emotions. And it happens in other situations, too (the kinds of legitimately emotional situations that these filmmakers are trying to artificially provoke): when I bear my testimony I might cry because I am sharing something deeply personal and emotional, so I have emotions when I talk about it. But that’s not the presence of God; that’s just having feelings.

4. Contentment And Happiness: Feeling generally happy and content about the spiritual tradition and related community that I have been brought up in is just normal. It’s a classic case of the grass looking greener on this side of the fence, and it results from a basic human complacency with the status quo. People are comfortable with what they know, and being comfortable feels pleasant. On the other side of the coin, converts to Mormonism may feel happy and content with their adopted faith tradition, but again, this comes from natural and expected feelings of gratitude and newfound belonging. Belonging feels good, whether it’s a church or a street gang. Being happy with your religion is a perfectly good reason to stick with your religion. But is isn’t a mystical message from God that your religion is the one true path, because pretty much everyone feels that way about their own religion.

5. “Impressions”: When I suddenly feel impressed to knock on a door, to approach someone on the street or a train, or to get up and bear my testimony, I may think something along the lines of the following: “hey, I just had a thought about doing that–I wonder if it was God telling me to do it. No, it was just a thought. Bt wait, what if I am talking myself into ignoring the Spirit? Is the Holy Ghost telling me to do this and I am just brushing it off? Why would I do that? Of course this was an impression; of course this was the Holy Ghost!” That is not personal revelation from God; that is a hilarious mind game you are playing with yourself.

6. Good Ideas: Sometimes, I suddenly have a great idea, out of nowhere. I might therefore want to attribute it to God, especially if it is related to church, religion, or my calling. But here’s the thing: people just have good ideas all the time.

All of these things are normal, basic humanity stuff. They happen to everyone. So the only way they come from God is if everything comes from God, and then we have to invent a new word for the mystical peak experiences that seem to be something wholly other, and from which these normal human life experiences are qualitatively distinct. And even then, if I have to concede that these things do come from God, they definitely don’t come from God in a “personal revelation that proves that the Church is true,” because they happen to everybody.

Even if I take Mormonism at its word and accept that feeling the presence of the Holy Ghost (i.e. the presence of God) is conclusive and unimpeachable proof that all of the Church’s truth claims are true–which I most certainly do not–these six types of experiences just don’t count.

Read Full Post »

I absolutely love Christmas.  I love the music, the decorations, the cookies, the shopping, the presents, the smiles, and the colored lights. The commercialism of Christmas just doesn’t bother me.  It’s fun, and its only once a year (commercialism the rest of the year bothers me).

I can remember each Christmas distinctly going back to when I was six years old, and I have hazy memories of Christmases before that.  These memories are some of my favorite memories, some of the best and most important times I have shared with my family.  Christmas for me is the true mark of the turning of the year and the passage of time.

The spiritual side of Christmas has always seemed incredibly important as well.  The religious side—the birth of Jesus and all it means for the world.  It is amazing to me.  Of all Christmas carols, I like the sacred ones the most.  While I love the glitz and the sparkle and the watered-down-TV-special stuff, the things about Christmas that are really meaningful to me—really meaningful, are the baby in the manger, no room in the inn, shepherds watching their flocks by night, a new star in the sky, angels proclaiming the birth, and the three wise men.  All that Christmas means, explicitly and symbolically, is precious to me.  For most of my life, the sacred meaning of Christmas has been enough to hold me to Christianity even when my faith was weak and other options seemed more interesting.

Because of my attachment to the sacred core of the holiday, last Christmas was hard for me.  It was the first Christmas in my life where I had serious doubts about whether or not I was a Christian, and so I was not sure what to think or feel about Christmas.  We weren’t going to church at the time, so there were no Christmas services.  I just wasn’t sure what to make of Christmas, and it made the holiday confusing and even a little bit painful for me.  If I am not a Christian, then what is the point of Christmas?  And Christmas has been so important and valuable to me, that losing it—or even losing just its sacred core, is something I don’t really know how to cope with.

So here I am, a year later, and not really any closer to figuring out what I believe—or what I want to believe.  I can’t call myself a Christian and feel honest about it, and so I don’t know what to make of Christmas.  But there’s something in that sacred core of the holy day that I yearn for.  What do I do?

Read Full Post »

So, our summer in New York City is finished, I have a sweet job offer in hand, and we’re back in the DC area for one more year of law school.  In the meantime, we have almost the entire month of August free, since classes for me don’t start until after Labor Day, and my lovely wife is finishing out the end of her maternity leave.  We’re basically unpacked from the move, but we don’t have the apartment all put back together completely yet.  We aren’t allowing ourselves to hook up the Wii until we get this place in order, which means I’m going through some pretty serious Guitar Hero withdrawal.

My sad news is that I couldn’t find anyone to go see Jethro Tull with me tomorrow in Virginia, so it looks like I’m not going.  It turns out I pretty much just don’t know anyone–at least anyone in the DC area–who likes Tull.  I’m honestly a Jethro-come-lately when it comes to the band, but I spent a pretty good chunk of the summer discovering that I had a deep and abiding love for them.  On the up side, my Aqualung CD came in the mail today, so I at least have some more JT to listen to, even if it isn’t live.

My wife and I have been re-watching the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica, so that we can then proceed to watch the third season (which we recently bought on DVD).  I’m not going to lie; this is pretty much the best show, ever.  When I figure out how to hook our cable box back up, we can check to see how much of the fourth season we managed to catch on DVR.

That’s about it for now.  I’m still trying to figure out how to get baptized and confirmed Episcopalian even though I don’t actually attend and Episcopal church right now, but that’s sort of another post for another day.

Read Full Post »

I am actually writing this post from… the future!

Seriously, in going back and assembling my list of high points along the journey, I realized that there are a couple of spots where important things happened, I didn’t blog about them, and I didn’t go back and explain what happened either. This is one of those spots, so I will try to recap for the sake of historical continuity.  So I am actually writing this post on April 2, 2009 to go back and fill in the blanks, and I am inserting it timewise into the summer of 2008.

In the spring of 2008, I headed east, spiritually speaking. I read a lot of the Baghavad Gita, I watched a lot of Heroes, and my daughter was born. For awhile, I thought that a kind of quasi-Dharmic Hinduism was going to be the path for me. I even went and started a new blog called “Dharma Bum” which I subsequently deleted (after bringing the important posts back here, so they wouldn’t be lost).

My brother came to visit with his wife in April, and he brought a bunch of books about Zen Buddhism, which I had never really considered seriously before. In particular, the book Hardcore Zen struck me as relevant and important. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Zen Buddhism was the right path for me–the truths that it espoused were, for the most part, things that I believed to be self-evident truths about the universe. I had some semantic concerns about distinguishing the Hindu Atman from the Buddhist Anatman, but that was more the kind of thing that could produce long, quirky debates later on. Important was the Zen universe was a universe I believed in, and Zen meditation seemed rally helpful to me.

But there was still a nagging feeling that this wasn’t really the right thing for me. Maybe it was jsut my fear of spiritual commitment, I don’t know. But it seemed to me that the problem with Zen was not that i thought it was untrue, but that it did not provide me with things I wanted and needed, spiritually speaking: a culturally relevant context with ritual, compelling mythological framework, professional clergy, etcetera. Although I couldn’t make myself believe that Christianity was true, I still felt an attraction to the Episcopal Church that in my opinion contradicted my Zen inklings.

My brother’s advice was just to pick one, go with it, and see what happens. And eventually that’s what I did.

While studying for final exams last April, I read C. S. Lewis’s Surprised By Joy, which is an amazing book. I was surprised to see how unconventional Lewis’s conversion to Christianity was, and in the end, I started to feel like the Episcopal Church really was the place for me–a place to be, in fact, even if I was not sure about my belief in Christianity.

So when we moved to New York for the summer, we started attending an Episcopal Church in the Village, and I even went to services at Trinity during my lunch hour downtown. It was meaningful and important to me, but there was some critical quality that was just elusive. I read every C. S. Lewis book I could get my hands on, I prayed and did devotions, and I thought of myself as a Christian, a Protestant, and an Anglican.

Maybe the biggest problem was that, concurrent to all of this, I spiralled into what might have been the worst depression I have ever been in. I can’t even describe it beyond saying that it was an absolute nightmare, and finally getting help and eventually climbing out of it has saved my life. My beautiful and sexy wife was there for me in my darkest hours, even when things got scary and that means so much to me. But in a lot of ways, God was distant, and I couldn’t figure out why. I literally cried out to Jesus to deliver me, but things just kept getting darker.

My love affair with Christianity started to enter a period of uncertainty when we came back to Maryland, partly because I was just plain more interested in Led Zeppelin than I was in religion. I still kept Episcopal Christianity in my head as a spiritual placeholder, but even then I wasn’t sure anymore–not because Christianity hadn’t pulled me out of my depression, because for all I know things might have been a lot worse without prayer and devotion, but just because my interest was fading. Again, fear of spiritual commitment? Maybe. But also Christianity honestly just wasn’t punching all of the spiritual buttons I needed to have punched.

Incidentally, I haven’t really felt the need or desire to go back to Zen. It is interesting, and probably, in retrospect, the religion whose truth-claims are the closest to matching reality, but despite being true, it is so stripped down that it actually lacks Truth.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 116 other followers